Students March Against Vandalism, in Support of Campus Beauty

On Sunday, students walked from the Campus Center to clean up the Community Garden, which vandals had earlier defaced (Photo by Brendan O'Hara).
On Sunday, students walked from the Campus Center to clean up the Community Garden, which vandals had earlier defaced (Photo by Brendan O'Hara).

On Sunday, Nov. 15, about 20 St. Mary’s students gathered at the Campus Center for the “Keep St. Mary’s Beautiful Walk.” The event, organized by juniors Danny Ruthenberg-Marshall and Tess Wier, was meant to voice the discontent with recent acts of vandalism on campus. Students walked around campus, posting signs at the sites of the vandalism and carrying a banner that read “Keep St. Mary’s Beautiful.” The walk ended at the community garden, where participants cleaned up the mess created a few weeks before.

“Tess and I organized this march/action because everyone’s been getting really fed up with the vandalism and we, along with everyone I’ve talked to, want it to stop. This was just one way to get the message out there, and then to actually do something about it with helping clean up the community garden,” said Ruthenberg-Marshall. “Hopefully the vandals will stop messing with things, or get themselves into an environment they feel more comfortable in, so they don’t want to destroy things.”

The walk and clean-up lasted for about an hour and were deemed a success by participants. Although it was originally supposed to be an “Anti-Vandalism March,” “We changed the name to the ‘Keep St. Mary’s Beautiful Walk’ when we got word that people were confusing this for some kind of protest. I don’t know who we would be protesting, but this was just to take some action and show that we love our school,” said Ruthenberg-Marshall. In keeping with that theme, those walking invited others to participate and offered those they met along the path free cookies and bagels.

The walk was supported by at least one member of the administration. Laura Bayless, Dean of Students, wrote on the event’s Facebook wall. Though she said she had a prior obligation, she wrote, “I will be with you in spirit.”

About a third of the buildings on campus were tagged with spray paint this semester. Maintenance removed the worst of the damage, but some of the vandalism remains, and there are faint outlines on a few of the tagged buildings.

College Not to Implement Porn-Policy

On Wednesday, Nov. 11, the Board of Regents of the Maryland state university system decided against legislation that would regulate pornography on state campuses. This vote came after several months of debate over the constitutionality of such a policy in terms of possible violations of the First Amendment right to free speech.

The need for such a policy came about after portions of the X-rated film Pirates II- Stagnetti’s Revenge, were shown in an entertainment setting at the University of Maryland, College Park. The issue concerning the State Legislature was the display of such “obscene” material on state property at a state-funded institution.

St. Mary’s, along with the other 11 state schools, were instructed to draft a policy for the showing of obscene materials. The goal was, if these materials were to be shown, to incorporate them into an educational program. A request for such a program and showing would then be submitted to a committee for review. Dean of Students Laura Bayless explained that she, the handbook committee, and the College attorney were in the process of drafting a policy. The state legislature gave schools until Dec. 1, 2009 to complete and submit such a policy.

Bayless simplified the Board’s decision; “they have essentially said we’ve looked at the issue and think we should not implement a policy.” She said, “on the recommendation of our College’s attorney, we are following that course of action as well.” St. Mary’s will remain porn-policy free.
After meeting with a First Amendment expert, the Board’s report determined that Maryland would be the first state to enforce rules for “acceptable use of pornographic films on campus.” According to the Board of Regents, the fact that no other college or university imposes such a policy “speaks volumes.” William E. Kirwan, the Chancellor, concluded, “any policy would put universities in an untenable position and subject them to legal challenges.” This is to be expected, as a narrow-enough obscenity does not currently exist. The Constitution protects pornography to the extent of obscenity; however, that definition is vague due to the lack of court cases involving this issue.

Finally, Bayless said, “should the legislature decide to link funding with enacting an obscenity policy, we will comply. Until then, however, we are not taking action.”

Prendergast: Millions of Congolese Lives Depend on Our Consumer Actions

Pandergast discussed how the "conflict mineral" trade in the Congo is the reason behind the rape of women by local militaries (Photo by Dave Chase).
Pandergast discussed how the "conflict mineral" trade in the Congo is the reason behind the rape of women by local militaries (Photo by Dave Chase).

Nitze Senior Fellow John Prendergast spoke Wednesday, Nov. 4 on the use of rape as a weapon in the Congo to protract the mineral trade.

Introduced by Professor Michael Taber, director of the Nitze Scholars Program, Prendergast began by speaking on how our consumption inadvertently leads to problems, such as the conflict in the Congo. Prendergast said, “There will not be peace in that country until we as consumers deal with innocently and inadvertently perpetuating violence in the Congo.”

Prendergast described how civil war has been affecting the Democratic Republic of Congo since 1960 and how militias have taken control of the mineral deposits and mines in order to make a profit. In order to control the local populations, the militias rape the women systematically.

He gave his lecture a personal feel by telling the story of a woman named Honorata who was sexually abused and raped as a result of the conflict. He linked the minerals, referred to as “conflict minerals” to the rapes and pointed out how consumers help enable such problems to continue.

Pulling out his cell phone, he said that the vibrating mechanism in cell phones is made from tungsten, how solder in electronics is being replaced by tin, and how gold is present in many other electronics. All of these minerals and more are major exports of the Congo.

Prendergast said, “I don’t think there is any other place in the world where the link between our consumer appetites and sexual violence is so direct.”

However, he offered ways in which everyone in the audience could help alleviate the suffering of people in the Congo through their consumerism.

There are three types of actions that all consumers can take reduce the use of conflict minerals. First, he encouraged the audience to call, meet, or write to their Senators and ask them to sponsor the Congo Conflict Minerals Act of 2009, which gives authority to the U.S. government to help control the mineral trade and to make electronics companies’ business practices more transparent.

Pandergast urged students to encourage their senators to support the Congo Conflict Minerals Act of 2009, which would allow the U.S. to control the "conflict mineral" trade in the Congo (Photo by Dave Chase).
Pandergast urged students to encourage their senators to support the Congo Conflict Minerals Act of 2009, which would allow the U.S. to control the "conflict mineral" trade in the Congo (Photo by Dave Chase).

Second, he asked the audience to visit raisehopeforcongo.org and email large electronics companies and demand conflict-free electronics. He said, “We need to tell Apple that we want rape-free cell phones. Conflict-free laptops. Spread the word about it.”

Third, he encouraged students to help their campuses support conflict-free electronics. Prendergast said schools can publicly call electronics corporations and tell them they want to buy conflict-free products.

He said that these actions can change the course of the Democratic Republic of Congo.

“We need to make conflict minerals the new blood diamond.” He went on to say that people’s movements have changed history the most in the last century. “All of these have contributed to real progression for humanity.”

“So instead of feeling guilty or sad or bad about how much destruction has gone into these consumer products…use these for change,” said Prendergast. “Millions of these [Congolese people’s] lives are at stake depending on what people like us do.”

Following the lecture, several students gave their opinions on what they had seen. Sophomore Elena Gross said, “There were a lot more implications of corporations than I thought,” and sophomore Lilian Timpson said, “I liked that his thoughts were very applicable to our lives.”

Judge Discusses ‘Scopes II’ Trial, Intelligent Design, and the Constitution

Judge Jones struck down the teaching of intelligent design as unconstitutional in Kitzmiller v. Dover Area School District. (Photo by Brendan O’Hara)
Judge Jones struck down the teaching of intelligent design as unconstitutional in Kitzmiller v. Dover Area School District. (Photo by Brendan O’Hara)

On Monday, Nov. 2, U.S. District Court Judge John E. Jones III visited the College, speaking on the topic of “Our Constitution’s Intelligent Design.” The speech was co-sponsored by the Center for the Study of Democracy and the Department of Biology as the 2009 William O.E. Sterling Lecture in Law and Politics.

Jones presided over the highly-controversial landmark case Kitzmiller v. Dover Area School District. Decided in 2005, the case was the first to challenge a public school district in Federal court on the basis of a requirement to teach intelligent design as an alternative to evolution as an explanation of the origin of life.

At the beginning of his speech, Jones gave a brief history of the case. Eleven parents of students in a Pennsylvania school district brought action because of a policy to teach intelligent design as opposed to evolution in ninth grade biology classes. The school district’s reasoning behind this decision was the idea that “there are flaws or gaps in the theory of evolution.” Intelligent design follows that “certain organisms are so complex, irreducibly so, that they must be the product of an intelligent designer.” Suing under the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment, the parents alleged that the school board was “deliberately motivated to promote creationism.” The case was tried over a six-week period, and in early November 2005, Jones struck down the policy, finding the school board to be motivated by religion, a violation of the First Amendment’s Establishment Clause.

When asked why we are still talking about the case in 2009, Jones responded with several tales of “not-so-marvelous experiences” in the aftermath of the case, not limited to but including death threats. He then explained that the case is relevant because it solidifies the role of the U.S. Constitution as the “absolute bedrock of our legal system.” Jones explained that he cannot emphasize this enough, especially because the “concept of judicial independence is very misunderstood.” He noted that judges do not decide cases on a whim, they decide them by “adhering to the law without bias.” It is difficult for the public to understand how judges operate, but put simply, judges at the trial level are bound by precedent passed down by higher courts.

In closing, Jones advocated for a better civics education across the country. He quoted former Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O’Connor, “we lack a good knowledge of democracy: it is not stamped on our genetic material; it must be learned and relearned.”

Jones was adamant about preserving the idea that no one is above the law. He fielded several questions at the end of the speech, most of which were directed at his personal views on creationism and teaching intelligent design in public schools. In response to several critical remarks on his political ideology, Jones answered honestly (he is a registered Republican), and calmly assured the audience that liberalism or conservatism should not be a concern because the law governs decisions.

“We had great turnout–about 90 people were there, including students, alumni, community members and the Sterling family,” said Michael Cain, political science professor and director of the Center for the Study of Democracy. “It was a good crowd and a fun night.”

College Hosts Maryland Student Legislature

During the general proceedings of the assembly, delegates of the Maryland Student Legislature deliberate over bills they had written and come to a vote based on majority rule. (Photo by Matt Molek)
During the general proceedings of the assembly, delegates of the Maryland Student Legislature deliberate over bills they had written and come to a vote based on majority rule. (Photo by Matt Molek)

The Maryland Student Legislature held its Fall Interim Assembly at St. Mary’s beginning Friday, Nov. 13 to allow students from across the state to simulate the legislative process in its fullest form, from writing legislation to debate and deliberation.

The growth of the College’s undergraduate delegation over the past few years was an incentive for the College to be chosen as the next assembly location.  While St. Mary’s facilitated a leadership training institute for this event in Sept. 1991, this event marked the first time St. Mary’s has sponsored the interim assembly.

“St. Mary’s has grown a lot, and is now a big delegation,” said Matthew Emery, a senior from McDaniel College and Speaker of the Assembly this year.  “We like to rotate around schools, and St. Mary’s is really getting involved.”
Leadership training institutes, or LTIs, are held before the interim assemblies to prepare students for participation.

During the interim assemblies, students apply these skills to argue for or against acts and resolutions proposed by the students themselves, allowing participants to learn how to write legislation and defend or oppose it effectively.

“It’s a great way to meet new people who have a variety of different opinions,” said junior Charles Onwuche, Jr., a delegate from St. Mary’s.

After an initial registration, committee leadership meeting, opening ceremonies, and a caucusing event, the assembly began its legislative process with committee hearings, in which proposed legislation related to that committee would be discussed and votes taken to determine which acts and resolutions would be presented to the general assembly.

After the initiation of the joint session of the general assembly, general assembly proceedings began, which mostly consisted of four-hour sessions of discussion and debate of the acts and resolutions proposed by each committee.  The sponsor of the act or resolution would discuss why the legislation was proposed, during which points of information could be addressed to the chair of the assembly and queries could be proposed to the speaker.

Because both supporters and objectors of the legislation were given set amounts of time to speak, strict formalities were observed. The formalities prohibited speaking out of turn and required delegates to rise, state the reason for suspending time, present the question to the speaker or the chair of the assembly, and continue with the proceedings.

“The assembly was kept in order pretty well,” said Onwuche.  “The students are enthusiastic and respectful of other delegates.”

After the time expired for supporters and objectors of the proposed act or resolution, and after any amendments were proposed or disputed before the expiration of that time, the legislation was brought to a vote in a closed session of the assembly.  While the doors were closed in the Glendening Annex, the delegates would discuss the bill and votes would be counted to determine if a majority was met in favor of the bill, in which case the legislation would pass.

“The debates are fun and vibrant, but serious when it comes to important issues,” said Dror Yuravlivker, a first-time delegate and graduate student from College Park.  “I didn’t know what to expect, but any expectation that I could have had has been met.”

The general assembly proceedings continued throughout the weekend, from Friday into Saturday and concluding on Sunday at 4:15 p.m. with closing ceremonies.

Saturday’s session included a keynote speech by Michael Cain, a professor of Political Science at and the Director of the Center for the Study of Democracy. Cain discussed with the delegates the state budget, and how changes in its regulations over the years have played a role in the current economic recession at the state level.

“[We need] to correct the spending formulas that drive spending,” Cain said.  While Congress has the power of the purse in handling allocation of funds, the State legislature can only modify areas of or take away funding, not increase spending.  “The [state] legislature needs greater authority to allocate funding,” he said.

St. Mary’s delegates discussed issues that included green energy investments, education policies and improvements, the pornographic film policy, and even promptness of professors in returning graded assignments to students.

The assembly included students from St. Mary’s College of Maryland; University of Maryland, Baltimore County; University of Maryland, College Park; Frostburg State University; McDaniel College; and Salisbury University.  After this assembly, the MSL’s next event, the Spring LTI and Interim Assembly, will be held at McDaniel College in March, followed by the 20th Annual Session in April at the State House in Annapolis.

Galupo Discusses Gender Identity

On Monday, Nov. 9, Dr. Paz Galupo spoke in Cole Cinema about the definition and role of bisexuality in our culture and how bisexuals are involved in the same-sex marriage debate.

Her talk, entitled “Bisexual Visibility and Same-Sex Marriage: Expanding Perspectives on Marriage Equality,” began with Galupo stepping onto stage and asking the audience the difference between sex and gender. After a short pause and various overlapping responses, it was generally agreed upon that sex was based on an individual’s biology and that gender was a socially defined means of expression.

“We are always looking out there and trying to make sense of [sex differences],” said Galupo.

She continued by teasing out the differences between gender expression, how an individual expresses masculinity or femininity to others, and gender identity, an individual’s private experience of whether they are masculine or feminine.

This was followed by an exploration of sexual orientation, which Galupo defined as being who an individual is attracted to based on the individual’s private gender identity and the gender identity of the object of affection.

Galupo lauded the Klein Sexual Orientation Grid, which includes many variables of sexual orientation, showing its fluidity. Galupo said, “For most people it’s really hard to pin down sexual orientation to one number.”

This grid contained variables such as sexual attraction, sexual behavior, sexual fantasies, social preference, and political identity in the past, present and ideal time states which are related to a similar continuum in the Kinsey scale. Galupo pointed out that many people find the numbers are different across the grid.

Before moving into the idea of bisexuality and its role in same-sex marriage, Galupo explained how society reinforces having one gender identity and the sexual orientation is almost always exclusively defined by behavior, “Behavior becomes a litmus test for identity.”

As the talk turned to bisexuality, Galupo asked the audience to identify stereotypes and myths about a bisexual identity. Galupo said there is a “question of legitimacy of bisexuality as an identity” and that she has chosen to study bisexuality because of this fact.

She found that there was little inclusion of bisexual perspectives in the same-sex marriage debate and gave several possible reasons why: because bisexuals are seen as not interested in monogamy, because cross-sex marriages have rights that same-sex marriages do not, or because people believe bisexuality can go away if there is a certain relationship.

Galupo ended the lecture by saying that we need to take “sexual orientation back to the individual level,” and by asking, “what can taking a different perspective add to the debate?”

A few audience members gave their thoughts on the lecture after its conclusion.

“The lecture was great!” said junior Rachel Buffington. “She discussed a lot of things that I could relate to, as well as some things that I had never before considered. She talked about how a lot of people who don’t identify as gay or straight, or even bisexual, feel pressure to conform to society’s narrow conception of sexuality, which I thought was really important.”

Junior Courtney Teed said, “I enjoyed it. I felt like she presented the topic in an interesting and informative way for people that might not know much about the topic and it made me want to be more LGBT [Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender] active.”

Professor Estimates Power of Gerbil Sun

For the final Natural Science & Mathematics (NS&M) Colloquium lecture of the semester, Dr. Larry Weinstein, a physics professor from Old Dominion University and co-author of Guesstimation: Solving the World’s Problems on the Back of a Cocktail Napkin, presented “The Art of Guesstimation: How to Use Mathematics and Common Sense to Estimate the Answers to an Almost Unlimited Range of Questions.”

“If the sun were made of gerbils, the Earth would be incinerated,” said Dr. Weinstein to a laughing audience of professors, physics and non-physics students, and St. Mary’s County community members. “I don’t know the energy output of a gerbil, so I’ll consider the energy output of a human, about 1 Watt per kilogram.”

Dr. Weinstein continued to work on the estimation by considering that a gerbil’s most likely energy output would be 10 times that of a human, considering that the animals have a lower amount of insulation.

From there, Weinstein considered the energy output of the sun and its mass (about 0.0001 Watts per kilogram) and determined that the same mass of gerbils would give off about 10,000-100,000 times more energy.

While an extreme example, Dr. Weinstein used the gerbil calculation to show that using basic mathematics and some general understanding of the universe would allow anyone to estimate the answer to almost any question. In light of St. Mary’s strong opinions toward environmental preservation and awareness, Weinstein limited his questions mostly to energy conservation, covering topics from the efficiency of electric cars to windmills replacing gasoline.

“Let’s say there are about 100 nuclear power plants in the U.S.,” said Dr. Weinstein. “If each produces about 1 gigawatt of power, that would collectively be about 1 terawatt of power.” A windmill, given a constant gust of 20-mph winds, would generate about 2 megawatts of power, meaning that it would take 500,000 windmills to equal the power of 100 nuclear power plants.

Several of Dr. Weinstein’s estimations shed light on the fact that certain alternative energy sources on the market are not enough to replace the strongly efficient ones that damage the environment, increasing the need for other methods. Electric cars cannot be given a reasonable amount of battery power to equal the burning efficiency of gasoline, and even solar panels on all roofs of U.S. houses would barely be enough to sustain U.S. electrical needs.

“Even if I can’t point people in the right direction, I can at least point them away from the wrong ones,” Dr. Weinstein said in response to a question from the audience.

Before signing copies of his new book, co-authored by Old Dominion University mathematics professor John Adam, Weinstein made a concluding statement about guesstimations: “Think about the answer, break up the question, and dare to be imprecise.”

“I thought it was a good presentation,” said junior Brian Tennyson, a physics major who attended the event. “He really covered how the science of estimation works.”

“One of the most important abilities for people to have is to do these sorts of calculations,” said Dr. Charles Adler, chair of the physics department and organizer of the NS&M Colloquium series. “Quite often, you have to make estimates like that.”

Theatre Department Celebrates a Night of Grand Openings

Thursday, Nov. 12 saw the official opening of the St. Mary’s theater department’s fall comedy play Arms and the Man, written by George Bernard Shaw, as well as the grand re-opening of Montgomery Hall’s Bruce Davis Theater.

The night began at 7:00 p.m. with an informal gathering in the front hallway of Montgomery Hall, where professors, members of the community, and a couple of students took time between eating cupcakes and drinking apple cider to talk about the Theater, Film, and Media Studies (TFMS) department.

By 7:45 p.m., everyone had gathered by the entrance to the newly renovated Bruce Davis Theater, where the symbolic ribbon- cutting ceremony was about to take place. “We have a wonderful new theater,” said Professor Merideth Taylor, the TFMS department chair, as she gave her introductory speech.

Tom Botzman, Vice President of Business and Finance, then took his turn at the podium to speak about the remodeled theater. “This is a state-funded project,” Botzman said, “and we’re thrilled to have this project done.”

After the ribbon was cut and the doors were officially opened, the audience began pouring into the theater in order to take their first look at all of the improvements and renovations. Many said that the Bruce Davis Theater had a whole new atmosphere.

With the balcony gone, the department had more room to place a larger number of audience chairs. The seats that are placed all of the way on both sides do not have the best view of the house, but overall, the new setup is more sensible.

“I think the re-done theater is fabulous!” said sophomore Briana Manente, who also appeared in the play as the Bulgarian mother, Catherine Petkoff. “I only got a chance to work in the old theater for one year seeing as I am a sophomore, but the improvements are immense.”

The new seating is not the only change to the Bruce Davis Theater. A new lighting booth has been added, as well as an intercom system, up-to-date equipment, soundproof doors, and extra storage space.

The grand re-opening was characterized by the smell of hay that permeated throughout the theater from the spray-painted blocks of green hay that were used as set props to look like hedges from a garden.

The play Arms and the Man, which was directed by Professor Michael Ellis-Tolaydo, lasted roughly two hours with a 10-minute intermission. Although not all of the seats were filled for the opening night, it still received a strong turnout from the campus community.

The story told was about a young Bulgarian woman, Raina Petkoff, played by Melissa Mercer, who hides the Swiss soldier Captain Bluntschli, played by Eric Horwitz, in her bedroom. “In his play,” wrote Ellis-Tolaydo in the “Director’s Note” section of the production’s program, “Shaw ridicules the romantic ideals of war and the idealized notions of marriage in the nineteenth century.”

“The theater here at SMCM is diverse enough that doing something traditional is by no means shocking,” said Manente of the play. “Something traditional does not mean that it is without intrigue and excitement, it just means Raina and Sergius aren’t doing cocaine off a guitar case.”

Some noticed at some points throughout the production that a few of the cast and crew may have had the first night jitters. There were a couple of lines that appeared to be quickly improvised.”

But even with the few mistakes, the cast and crew  gave a very nice opening night performance. From exchange student Katerina Floradis’ perfect accent for the fiery Louka to Ian Prince’s portrayal of the absurd and slightly vain Major Sergius Saranoff, the play left the audience laughing.

“I thought it was a great success,” said audience member Megan Kile. “It was very smart, very funny.”

The play will have three more showings, which will be at 8:00 p.m. on Thursday, Nov. 19 and Friday, Nov. 20 and at 2:00 p.m. on Sunday, Nov. 22.

“Overall,” said Manente, “I would say that every play, no matter what it is or what it is about, has the ability to be exciting and a great learning experience for those in the show and the audience who enjoys it.”

Vaughan Discredits Historical Myths of Mexico

Mary Kay Vaughan explained the history of Mexico as an independent nation, including its relation to the U.S. (Photo by Dave Chase).
On Tuesday, Nov. 10, Mary Kay Vaughan, Professor of History at the University of Maryland, gave a lecture entitled “Myths about Mexico.”

This lecture was the second given in The Alice Fenwick Fleury Zamanakos Endowed Lecture Series in History. “Arthur Zamanakos endowed this lecture in loving memory of his wife,” said Professor Christine Adams, chair of the history department. Several members of the Zamanakos family attended the lecture.

After the overview by Adams, Professor Adriana Brodsky took the podium to talk about the visiting lecturer, Professor Mary Kay Vaughan. Vaughan is a leader in Latin American History and has published several books about the history of Mexico. “Mary Kay Vaughan has devoted her career to the revolutionary state and its citizens through education,” said Brodsky.

Vaughan began the lecture by speaking of how nice it was to be at St. Mary’s and “wonderful to be in a small classroom.” She then began her lecture speaking about how she would be focusing on the history of Mexican and American relations during the Mexican Revolution. She spoke of the American ambassadors’ trips to Mexico during the time and the relationship they had with Mexican government officials.

“In 1910 our greatest investment in Mexico was oil,” said Vaughan. She came back to this idea very often when speaking about politics in Mexico, constantly reiterating the point that oil was a major concern of the U.S. relations with Mexico.

Vaughan not only spoke of Mexican-U.S. political relations, but also of their relationship culturally. Mexico had a renaissance that fascinated many Americans. “Independent things happen in Latin America when the U.S. is elsewhere,” said Vaughn.

Vaughan also discussed art in Mexico during the Revolution. She spoke of Diego Rivera and Frida Kahlo. “U.S. artists and intellectuals flocked to Mexico,” said Vaughan.

Vaughan ended her lecture by returning to the topic of politics and oil in Mexico. She spoke of how Mexicans banded together and bought back their oil from the U.S. so that they were the sole proprietors of their most precious export. “Mexico came of age. Never had the country been so united,” said Vaughan.

After the lecture was completed, students where able to ask Professor Vaughan questions about her lecture. “I thought it was very informative, but she went a little fast so I missed some of it,” said sophomore Anna Weaver.

Professor’s Novel Picked for Barnes and Noble Program

English professor Jerry Gabriel's book Drowned Boy will be released in January (Photo by Matt Molek).
English professor Jerry Gabriel's book Drowned Boy will be released in January (Photo by Matt Molek).

Professor Jerry Gabriel’s new book, Drowned Boy, was awarded the Mary McCarthy prize in 2008 by Andrea Barrett and picked by Barnes & Noble for the “Discover Great New Writers” program.

Drowned Boy is the story of main character Nate Holland’s early life. According to Barnes and Noble, the book is “an unsentimental portrait of rural America…a collection of linked stories that reveals a world of brutality, beauty, and danger in the forgotten landscape of small-town basketball tournaments and family reunions.”

“The book is actually a collection of stories that are related…Its narrative arc is very loose,” Gabriel said. The seven stories and novella follow Nate Holland from age six to twenty-four.

“It’s set in a small town in Eastern Ohio — Moraine — which is a fictional version of my hometown,” said Gabriel. “I would say many of [the stories] came from experiences and growing up there.”

But, Gabriel said, the stories are only loosely based in real life experiences. Stories might evolve from memories or scenarios, and “some of them just come out of the blue,” he said.

Though Gabriel wrote the first story for the book 15 years ago while in graduate school, he completed the majority of the material between 1999 and 2001. In 2007, Gabriel went back to the collection of stories that would become Drowned Boy and worked through the material once more.

“Writing is something that I started to do in college…and I just never really stopped.” Although he wasn’t a reader — “I didn’t grow up reading books,” Gabriel said — he stumbled into an Intro to Literature class as an undergraduate and was introduced to contemporary fiction. “I was kind of hooked,” he said. “I’d always thought of literature as having little or nothing to do with me. I saw that these were just stories about people I knew and they meant something to me. Basically from that moment or shortly thereafter I’ve written.”

Gabriel’s writing has received praise from critics and friends alike. “I have had the pleasure of swapping creative work with Jerry Gabriel, and over our meals and discussions about our respective stories, what I’ve come to appreciate most about his writing is how his fiction must be read twice–once for pleasure and again for insight,” wrote Professor Jennifer Cognard-Black.

“The stories Jerry tells are of breath and bone, heart and muscle; they are tales about love and strife between brothers, about the difficult emotional distances between fathers and sons, about the mysterious workings of the heart between wives and husbands,” said Cognard-Black. “In other words, regardless of what he writes about, Jerry’s stories are about people and their messy, complicated, and vital connections to each other; they are fully of the human. His fiction is meant to provoke and perturb as it addresses who we are in the truer world of our imaginations, and as such, I am not the least surprised that Barnes and Noble has chosen his new novel as a book readers should have on their shelves.”

Professor Gabriel is a visiting assistant professor at the College. He has degrees from The Ohio State University, Northern Arizona University, and the University of Iowa Writers’ Workshop and his work has appeared in several different magazines. Drowned Boy will be released in January of 2010.